- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Some voters in the Republican stronghold of Mississippi say the presidential race is a choice between one candidate they think is bad and another they think is worse.

“I wasn’t happy with either choice,” Susan Beasley, 57, a Flora resident who has already cast an absentee ballot because she will be out of town on Election Day.

Beasley described herself as a “never Hillary” voter and said she chose Republican Donald Trump - not because she has warm feelings for him, but because she supports the Republican platform and likes Trump’s conservative running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

“That was the hardest vote I’ve ever made in my life,” Beasley said of Trump. “I just don’t think he’s presidential. He just shoots from the mouth without thinking.”

Mississippi has been reliably Republican in presidential races for decades: The last Democratic nominee to win the state was Jimmy Carter, a former Georgia governor, in 1976.

Winning a presidential race takes a majority of the 538 Electoral College votes. Mississippi has six electoral votes and has seen relatively little campaign activity this year compared to larger and more competitive states like Florida and Ohio.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has been raising money and stumping for Trump, and the businessman campaigned in Mississippi twice before the party primaries and once since winning the nomination. The Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, has focused her efforts in other states.

Darneshia Oliver, a 27-year-old who’s registered to vote in Kosciusko, said she will vote for Clinton because she doesn’t like Trump.

“To me, he seems like a bully and I don’t think a bully should run the country,” Oliver said after shopping one afternoon last week in Ridgeland.

Polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday.

Casting a write-in vote for president is unlikely to have any meaning. State law says write-in votes are only counted if a candidate on the ballot dies, resigns, withdraws or is removed from a race.

The state’s chief elections officer, Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, said that after a relatively slow start in the pace of absentee voting in Mississippi, there was a surge in requests for absentee ballots last week. Voters of any age are allowed to vote absentee if they will be out of town on Election Day. People who are either disabled or at least 65 years old also may vote absentee, even if they will be in town for the election.

Hosemann said more than 112,500 absentee ballots were requested in the state by Monday, but not all had been returned. That is an increase from 2012, when 106,722 absentee ballots were requested and filled out. Mississippi has more than 1.86 million registered voters.

This is the first presidential election in which all Mississippi voters will be required to show a driver’s license or other form of government-issued photo identification at the polls. The photo ID requirement was in place for the 2015 election for governor and other statewide offices, and Hosemann’s office reported few problems with people forgetting or not having some acceptable form of identification. Critics, however, have said the requirement could prevent some voters from going to the polls.

People who forget their ID are allowed to vote by affidavit ballot, but their ballot will only be counted if they return to the circuit clerk’s office within five days to show identification.

All four of Mississippi’s U.S. House members are seeking new two-year terms and are challenged by candidates who have raised and spent little money.

Four of the nine state Supreme Court seats will be filled, as will four of the 10 seats on the state Court of Appeals. A term on each court lasts eight years.

The hardest fought Supreme Court race is in the central district, where Justice Jim Kitchens of Crystal Springs is seeking a second term. He is challenged by Kenny Griffis of Ridgeland, who’s currently a Court of Appeals judge. Although Mississippi judicial candidates run without party labels, Democrats are supporting Kitchens and Republicans are supporting Griffis.

Four candidates are running for an open Supreme Court seat in the northern district: John Brady of Columbus, Bobby Chamberlin of Hernando, Steve Crampton of Tupelo and James T. “Jim” Kitchens of Caledonia. If nobody receives a majority, the top two will go to a Nov. 29 runoff.

In another northern district Supreme Court election, Justice Jimmy Maxwell of Oxford is unopposed.

The southern district race is between Justice Dawn Beam of Sumrall and Michael T. Shareef of Hattiesburg.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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